Tonight, I am writing to you all from a blanket on the roof of my house. There is an actual breeze and the temperature is comfortable for the first time since we arrived. As promised, I am going to write about the time I was able to spend last night on the streets of downtown Santo Domingo.
The evening began with a prayer and worship service as Casa Joven. The church, Casa Joven, is in downtown Santo Domingo and is located in an office complex. Inside it is very modern and comfortable. The service was moving and very emotional. There was a lot of prayer, testimonies, and singing. After, we had a small meeting in order for the leaders of Casa Joven to speak with Jill and I about what was going to happen for the rest of the evening, where we were going, and what was ok for us to do and say, as well as not do and say. They told us that the women were very intelligent, that they would be able to sense if we were afraid or apprehensive, that it was ok to talk to and touch them freely. They also told us not to ask questions about their work, but that they enjoyed speaking about their children and families, and would probably ask us to pray with them. Loly told us that they had told the women about us, what we were coming to do, and that the girls were very excited and expecting us.
We left the church in four cars – a group totaling about 12, and drove into the city. As I watched the scenery through the window, I noticed immediately that the night in this city is very different from the day. It was easy to recognize the sex workers as we drove down the street, and I was surprised at just how many there were. We stopped fairly quickly, and as we got out of the car we met A (I am not including the names of the women I met last night in order to protect them and their dignity). She is a woman in her sixties and has been working in prostitution for over fifty years. I was soon to find out that a woman of her age is not typical of the many people we would meet.
A few minutes of quick spanish, and A was in the car with us and we were off to find the other girls. A few blocks later, we pulled over yet again and got out onto the sidewalk. It was easy to see that the other women of Casa Joven had invested a lot of time into building relationships with many of these women, because as we made out way down the sidewalk, we were greeted warmly with hugs and kisses from many of the women. We spoke with four other women there aside from A, and they were kind and candid. They told us about their children and their lives. The conversations were light and refreshing, as well as sobering and moving. One of the women I spoke to was only nineteen years old. She told me that she had three children at home ages 6, 4, and 3. Another girl talked to me about moving to New York City and showed me the bruise under her makeup from where her boyfriend had hit her the week before. Almost all of the women we spoke to were under 21, and I could not help but think of the life they had already experienced at such a young age.
The group from Casa Joven then divided up into groups of two and took each of the girls aside. There, the conversations became more intimate as the girls told us what they would like us to pray for. One at a time, each of the groups joined hands while standing out on the side-walk, amidst honking horns and slurs yelled by passersby, and prayed with each of the girls. I had the opportunity to pray with two of the women while my very good friend Anilssa translated.
The women seemed excited to start making jewelry with us, and the most common question was “When do we start?” Both Jill and I made effort to speak to the women in the bast versions of spanish that we were able, and the women from Casa Joven filled in where we were not able. All of the women were very accepting and open. There were times that they would walk away from the conversation in order to speak to cars that had stopped, but, many of them devoted their full attention to the group. I was equally as impressed with the women and men from Casa Joven. They were almost bright as they interacted with the women on the street. They were the most animated I had seen them yet, and their relationships with the women were obviously sincere.
We drove to several corners in order to see certain women. I watched those from Casa Joven introduce themselves to women that did not know, and fully engage those that they did. The passion from these people was palpable, and I was moved at the intensity with which they cared for each of the women.
I feel that this has been the most valuable experience I have had thus far in the Dominican Republic. Meeting and spending time with these girls shattered any preconceived ideas I had about the people with whom Jill and I would be working while in this country. I am excited at the potential of this program, I am excited to have the opportunity to help make a difference in each of their lives, and frankly, I am excited that they are excited.